There are only seven games left, yet trying to get Diego Simeone to mention anything about Atletico Madrid’s title chances are still a long shot at best. Regardless, his team currently sits in first place in La Liga and are into the quarterfinals of the Champions League, where they will face league rivals Barcelona tonight.
But despite Diego Costa’s goals, Koke’s assists and Thibaut Courtois’ exploits in goal, there is an often overlooked facet to this Atletico team that has been a model of stability and class all season.
Without a doubt the centre-back pairing of Brazilian Joao Miranda and Uruguayan Diego Godin has been far and away the best in La Liga, if not Europe. Domestically, Atletico have only conceded a League best 22 goals after 31 games, an average of 0.7 goals a game.
They’ve carried this form into Europe as well. Atletico were tied with Chelsea and Manchester united for least goals conceded during the group stage of the Champions League, with three.
Godin and Miranda epitomize everything there is to love about Simeone’s hard working group. They never stop running, never stop talking and are an extremely organized bunch. While city rivals Real Madrid boast the combative and at times risky centre-back pairing of Pepe and Sergio Ramos, the South American partnership of Godin and Miranda exudes a tranquillity not often seen in modern day defences.
Even summer singing Toby Alderweireld, who was expected to challenge for a starting spot, has been frozen out behind the immense partnership constructed between the two defenders.
Godin, who previously made his mark on the highflying Villarreal teams of the mid 2000s, is a fast and surprisingly composed defender. He combines his physical presence with an ability to play the ball comfortably out of defence. He’s also a dominating figure in the air often first to any cross that dares enter Courtois’ box.
Miranda bounced around a bit before he settled in Madrid. After a fairly unsuccessful stint at Sochaux he returned to Brazil with Sao Paulo before coming to Atletico on a free transfer three years ago. Following a somewhat rocky start he’s grown into a solid member of this Atletico side.
The 29-year-old routinely showcases an immense ability to read games and be in the right place at the right time. His positioning is excellent and makes him the perfect companion for the more active Godin.
Miranda is a cerebral defender who can be combative when needed but it’s his tactical know-how that sets him apart. He’s less prone to dive into tackles and risk getting carded. He’s only been booked seven times all season in 41 games and has still yet to receive red.
He’s rarely caught out of position as well, important for an Atletico side that is so dependent on its shape. Though he possesses the quality we are unlikely to see Miranda marauding through the centre of the pitch like some of his compatriots. He’s tidy and he knows his role.
Both Godin and Miranda will need to be extremely focused tonight against La Blaugrana’s explosive attack. But if they continue doing what they’ve been doing all season, Messi and co. will have their work cut out.